in Shocktober

Day of the Dead (1985)

Though forsaken to live in the shadows of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead is nonetheless a fantastic zombie movie. Arguably the scariest of the series for taking gore effects to new heights, Day of the Dead is also a commentary on extreme militarization. Could this be some sort of jab at Reagaonomics too? Whatever it means I hope we can all agree on one thing, Day of the Dead is the grisliest portrait of a post-zombie apocalypse world.

Sometime after Dawn of the Dead (though none of the movies directly connect) we are introduced to a world where zombies are now the dominant species. We follow a group of survivors held up in an underground military base. The group is made up of both military and science personnel but primarily focuses on Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille). Bowman is working alongside several researchers in an attempt to reverse the zombie process but no real ground has been made. If that wasn’t a problem the group must also deal with the tyranny of its iron-fisted leader Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato). Tension grows between the two parties as dwindling supplies and conflicting beliefs tear the group apart. Eventually, the group suffers a complete collapse leading to anarchy, violence, and of course a helluva lotta zombie action.

The film is a lot deeper than I think most give it credit. Its message may not be as clear as Dawn’s commentary on consumerism, or Night’s nihilist view of humanity in a Vietnam-ravaged America, but there’s something here. It can be seen by the long gaps in-between Romero’s zombie movies. He only makes them when he has something to say about society. How else would you explain the ten-year gap between the first two films? The seven-year gap between Dawn and this film? And then the twenty-year gap between this film and Land of the Dead? Romero likes to scare people but he also likes to give them something to think about.

Of course you couldn’t have a compelling story without a colorful collection of characters. Day of the Dead has some of Romero’s strangest yet most memorable. You have John (Terry Alexander) the Jamaican pilot, Bill (Jarlath Conroy) the alcoholic Irishman, Miguel (Anthony Dileo Jr.) the guy that goes crazy, Dr Logan (Richard Liberty) whom the group refer to as “Dr. Frankenstein”, and of course there’s Captain Rhodes, one of those characters you love to hate. Day also has one of the most memorable zombie characters in Bub (Sherman Howard) a zombie that Dr. Logan has trained to be docile towards humans… Well, some humans.

Though Day of the Dead will never be as famous or notable as it’s predecessors, it easily takes the bronze for the third best zombie movie ever made. In my eyes, it’s the scariest zombie movie ever made. If you like an old-fashioned spooky-fest check out Night, if you want a brooding character-study watch Dawn, if you want off-the-wall violence and ridiculous amounts of zombies watch Day. I know Romero went on to make three more zombie movies after Day, but I’ll always think back to Romero’s first three zombie films as the ultimate horror trilogy.

Captain Rhodes feels a little torn up inside.